Monday, May 2, 2011


To my wonderful readers:

I am going to be moving on from my terrific post as patent librarian at SFPL, and so this blog is going to have to be shuttered.  Perhaps the next patent librarian will pick up the torch, so check in at

Photo courtesy of PA Attorney General's Office Website.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments these past three years!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Should juries look at a patent's validity?

UCLA law professor Doug Lichtman wrote an op-ed in the New York Times today about a patent case that is soon to be considered by the Supreme Court.

At issue, in both the case and the article, is the question of whether a juries in patent lawsuits should be discouraged from questioning the validity of a patent, as they currently are.  This practice stems from the assumption that patent examiners, who are experts, are more likely to make a correct assessment of an invention's validity than are a group of lay jurors. 

Lichtman argues that allowing juries to consider the validity of a patent would do no harm.  The examiner's opinion will, after all, be submitted as evidence.  And by allowing juries to take into account the possibility that a patent is invalid, we can make up for the inevitable innacuracies that accompany the enormous job of examining the hundreds of thousands of patent applications that are filed each year.

Lichtman does a great job of summing up the task that the USPTO faces.  Check out the excerpt below and then have a look at the whole story here.  (I think since it's a referral it doesn't count towards your monthly quota.)

A patent’s validity is first judged at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, where thousands of experts on everything from business practices to stereo equipment toil to evaluate every submitted application. It’s a herculean task: inventors have filed more than 450,000 applications every year since 2007; last year the number was close to 500,000. To accurately evaluate all of those purported inventions would cost tens of billions of dollars, multiples more than what the Patent Office receives in federal outlays or could plausibly raise on its own with application fees.
As a result, patent examiners give most applications only a quick look, spending on average 16 hours to 17 hours per application — nowhere near the time needed to assess whether an invention is truly new and not obvious. Worse, those hours are typically spread over two to three years, and they are interspersed with work on hundreds of other open files.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Names do give you issues..."

There's a great little piece in the NY Times Diner's Journal blog about a chocolate shop owner in NYC who was recently denied permission to call his shop Chocolate Library because the name might confuse consumers.

For the record, the name-denial came from NY state authorities, not the PTO, but it's still a good lesson about the importance of reading up on the legal ins and outs of naming a business.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Another artist gets sued for copyright infringement

First it was Shepard Fairey, then Jeff Koons, and now, according to the Art Newspaper, LA artist Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash, is the latest popular artist to be involved in a copyright kerfuffle.

Mr. Brainwash is being sued for basing a work from his 2008 show "Life is Beautiful" on a popular photo of Run DMC.

I wonder if art schools are adding IP classes to their curricula?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Patents and drug companies -- bad news for the bottom line, and maybe a new business model

There's a great article from yesterday's NY Times noting the impending expiration this year of Pfizer's Lipitor and several other "blockbuster" drugs.

The long and short of it is that drug companies are finding that their traditional business model, which is to spend millions of dollars developing patentable drugs, then making the money back (plus a healthy profit!) from the proceeds of their patent monopoly, is failing them as governments and consumers push for cheaper drugs.

It's a tough question!  This is one of those tricky areas where ethics and economics can appear to clash.  Should we rely on private drug companies to develop medicines?  If so, should we seek to restrict the cost of the medicines they develop?  If not, who will step in to pay for R&D for the next generation of drugs?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Urban Homesteading" trademark -- legit mark or trademark bullying?

TechDirt ran a piece this week about alleged "trademark bullying" by a family who registered "urban homesteading" as a federal trademark.

The story raises an interesting question -- how should the USPTO handle phrases that are in common usage, even if they aren't registered?  I once attended a talk by a trademark examining attorney, and she described the process that they used to allow or reject trademark applications.  I remember that she was very emphatic about the scope of their examination, that they only compared the application to their trademark registers and not to state trademark registers or common law trademark sources such as directories and product catalogs.

Anyhow, the point of that digression is to speculate that perhaps the dispute here -- that "urban homesteading" is indeed a common term and should not be allowed as a trademark -- is probably a prelude to a court case that will eventually make the final determination.  Just speculating; it will be interesting to see what happens.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Calendar year patent statistics are now available

The USPTO's Patent Technology Monitoring Team has posted calendar year statistics up through 2009.  These reports offer a glimpse into the USPTO's activities and, by extension, to technological advancements and the economy in general.  Have a look!